Art MacMurrough

MacMurrough, Art, King of Leinster, collaterally descended from preceding, was born in 1357. He was knighted when but seven years of age.

At twenty his father died, and he succeeded to the government of Leinster.

From his sixteenth year he had successfully repelled encroachments and levied exactions upon the colonists in return for leaving open the roads between the northern and southern portions of the Pale.

Many of the Leinster septs, claiming descent from Cahir Mor, obeyed Art as their chief.

According to their chroniclers, he held in “his fair hand the sovereignty and the charters of the province.”

He is spoken of as “replete with hospitality, knowledge, and chivalry; the prosperous and kingly enricher of churches and monasteries with his alms and offerings.”

He strengthened his position by marrying the Baroness of Narragh, daughter of Maurice, 4th Earl of Kildare.

She was entitled to estates in Kildare, which were seized and granted by the crown to others, on the ground of her having forfeited them by marrying one of the principal enemies of the King of England.

The war that ensued was one cause of Richard II.’s expedition to Ireland in 1394.

When MacMurrough was informed of his arrival at Waterford, he immediately made a descent upon and ravaged New Ross, and carried thence a large booty and many hostages.

King Richard could make little head against the harassing irregular warfare carried on by MacMurrough, and at length expressed willingness to come to terms with him, and make grants of lands in exchange for those of which he had been deprived.

On 16th February 1395, MacMurrough, mounted on a black steed, and accompanied by his tributary chiefs, met the King’s commissioners at Ballygorry, near Carlow.

The terms of agreement having been read over in English and Irish, MacMurrough swore allegiance conditional on the restitution of his wife’s lands, the payment of an annuity, and equivalent territories for some he was asked to surrender near Carlow.

In the following month, MacMurrough, attired in rich silk garments, edged with fur, was entertained at Dublin in great splendour, accompanied by O’Neill, O’Brien, and O’Conor, and with them accepted knighthood from Richard, having kept his vigils in Christ Church.

The English Privy Council jubilantly congratulated the King upon having effectually subdued “Macmourg,” “le grand O’Nel,” and others of the greatest and strongest captains.

On Richard’s return to England, he took with him as hostages sons of MacMurrough, and other young chiefs.

It was not long, however, before MacMurrough was again engaged in hostilities.

In 1397 he took Carlow; and on the 20th July, next year, at the head of a large force, defeated the Anglo-Irish army on the banks of the Nore. The Viceroy, Roger Mortimer, fell in this engagement.

King Richard was again obliged to visit Ireland to assert his supremacy, and on the 23rd June 1399, with a fresh army, marched against MacMurrough, who said he “would neither submit nor obey Richard in any way, but affirmed he was the rightful king of Ireland, and that he would never cease from war and the defence of his country till his death, declaring that the wish to deprive him of his land by conquest was unlawful.”

With but 3,000 men he harassed Richard’s large forces, and retreating before them into the fastnesses of Wicklow, reduced them to the greatest straits for provisions.

Indeed the King’s army would have been almost annihilated but for his timely meeting with some of the fleet at Arklow.

Eventually MacMurrough consented to a parley with the Earl of Gloucester.

His appearance on the occasion is thus described by Froissart:

“From a mountain between two woods, not far from the sea, I saw MacMurrough descend, accompanied by multitudes of the Irish, and mounted on a horse without saddle or saddle-bow, which cost him, it was reported, four hundred cows, so good and handsome an animal it was. This horse was fair, and in his descent from the hill to us, ran as swift as any stag, hare, or the swiftest beast I have ever seen. In his right hand he bore a long spear, which, when near the spot where he was to meet the Earl, he cast from him with much dexterity. The crowd that followed him then remained behind, while he advanced to meet the Earl near the brook. He was of large stature, wonderfully active, very fell and ferocious to the eye—a man of deed.”

We are told that

“Gloucester and MacMurrough, meeting at a little brook, exchanged much discourse. MacMurrough declared he would have no terms but peace without reservation, free from molestation of any kind, and asserted that otherwise he would never come to a compact so long as he lived. Failing to agree, they parted hastily; and on learning the result of the conference, Richard’s usually ruddy face grew pale with anger, and he swore, in great wrath, by St. Edward, that he would never depart from Ireland, till he had taken MacMurrough, alive or dead. … From Dublin the king despatched three bodies of well-appointed soldiery against MacMurrough, and exhorted them to behave bravely, promising one hundred marks of pure gold to any who might kill or capture him. He declared that should they fail, he would himself pursue Art, and burn all the woods after the fall of the leaves in autumn.”[335]

Richard was, however, compelled to return home, leaving his threats unfulfilled.

Art now took and kept Camolin, Enniscorthy, and Wexford, and sacked Castledermot.

In 1408 he advanced to the attack of Dublin, and defeated the garrison under Lord Thomas of Lancaster, but was unprepared to lay regular siege to the city.

His power within his own limits continued unquestioned.

He died at New Ross a week after Christmas, in 1417, aged about 60.

D’Arcy McGee thus writes of him:

“In the Irish history of the middle ages—from Brian’s era to Hugh O’Neill’s—he has no equal for prudence, foresight, perseverance, valour, and success.”

The Four Masters declare that “he was a good father and a true friend; a cultivator of knowledge, and a lover of letters.”

MacMurrough’s line is at present represented by Arthur Kavanagh, of Borris.


134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O’Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

196. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840–’7.

229. MacMurrogh, Life and Conquests of Art: Thomas D’Arcy McGee. Dublin, 1847.

335. Viceroys of Ireland, History: John T. Gilbert. Dublin, 1865.